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Empty Houses Reviews

Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro, Sophie Hughes

Empty Houses

Brenda Navarro, Sophie Hughes

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Daunt Books
Publisher: Daunt Books
Publication date: 25 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9781911547686

Daniel disappeared three months, two days and eight hours after his birthday. He was three. He was my son. 

Empty Houses unfolds in the aftermath of a child's disappearance. His mother is distraught. As her life begins to unravel, she is haunted by his absence but also by her own ambivalence: did she even want him in the first place? 

In a working-class neighbourhood on the other side of Mexico City another woman protects her stolen child. After longing desperately to be a mother, her life is violently altered by its reality. Alternating between these two contrasting voices, Empty Houses confronts the desires, regrets and social pressures of motherhood faced by both the mother who lost her child and the new one who risked everything to take him. 

A literary sensation on its original publication, Empty Houses is a kaleidoscopic inquiry into contemporary Mexico and a provocative exploration of motherhood. It announces an intrepid and breathtaking new literary voice.

  • The ObserverBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
23 Feb 2021

"...a taut two-hander that examines motherhood through the prism of a child’s abduction"

Translated by Sophie Hughes, this powerfully bleak Mexican debut is a taut two-hander that examines motherhood through the prism of a child’s abduction. It’s narrated by two unnamed women in Mexico City. The first – middle-class, married to a man from Spain – tells us that her three-year-old son, Daniel, hasn’t been seen since he went missing in a playground while she was absorbed in her phone: the man she was having an affair with had just texted to break things off. Now unable to get out of bed, she’s dead-eyed with self-loathing, her agony intensified by having to care for her husband’s Catalan niece, Nagore, of whom they took custody after the girl’s father murdered her mother. This is a novel in which violence is endemic... In these locked-down days you may turn to fiction as a source of good cheer. Empty Houses obviously isn’t that. As a portrait of cruelty, it isn’t itself cruel – in fact it’s full of empathy, challengingly so. But it does outline a moral universe devoid of redemption, in which justice is a mirage, and we’re left wondering what the concept even means.


4 stars out of 5
Sarah Gilmartin
15 Mar 2021

"a captivating debut from a writer to watch"

The book is full of thought-provoking questions (“When does a home become a home, and what makes one?”), though Navarro has a frustrating tendency to leave them hanging. Another example of this is in her relationship with her adopted daughter, Nagore, of who she says: “On hearing the word ‘girl’ I was hit by a foul smell, as if the word itself were a living thing.” But we never learn the root of the narrator’s disgust of girlhood, where it came from, why it continued to grow.